While it’s not surprising that corporate legal departments have utilized legal processing outsourcing companies (LPOs) to handle document review or for other tasks that can decrease their legal spend (to the detriment of law firms), now we are beginning to see law firms use LPOs themselves, either to help lessen their own fixed costs or sometimes to “bundle up” work the law firm can oversee, thereby keeping their foot in the door with clients.
Enter Akerman Data Law Center.
This unique project — created through a partnership among Akerman, an AmLaw 100-ranked law firm; Thomson Reuters Legal Managed Services (LMS); and tech innovator Neota Logic — is a disaggregated but organized offering provided to corporations by Akerman for researching state and federal data privacy laws. Using a technology platform that utilizes a simple questionnaire (think similar to Turbo Tax), the Center can interpret the legal knowledge and provide the relevant laws for the client in each jurisdiction and situation. The tool basically asks users questions to clarify what they need help with, then uses decision trees and logic gates to come up with an accurate answer. Should the client’s answers suggest more direct legal guidance is needed, a user is directed to Akerman.
Indeed, another unique feature and one which is a giant step for the legal profession is that — because the application, including all questions and all reasoning, is 100% built by Akerman — where it is able to provide answers, those answers are Akerman’s legal advice just as much as advice given in person, on a call or over email.
The Akerman Data Law Center will be featured in an upcoming webinar, co-sponsored by Thomson Reuters, on November 17.
In creating the Data Law Center, Thomson Reuters LMS (formerly known as Pangea 3) provided a lower-cost service to initially research many conflicting statutes and regulations — and a lower cost way of ensuring those continue to be updated on an ongoing basis; Neota Logic quickly and nimbly built an advanced platform, and Akerman provides a trusted law firm’s stamp of approval and strategic advice.
One of the goals of the project, Akerman Partner Jeffrey Sharer and LMS Director of Legal Solutions Paul Stroka explained, is to help law firms find a cost-effective way to bill clients for keeping up-to-date on constantly changing data privacy regulations, which has always been a struggle. “This story is a pretty commonplace one — too many laws, too time-consuming, not enough subject matter expertise, and no way to keep up with everything in a cost-effective way for the clients,” Stroka said.
And while general counsel were never excited about paying for legal research costs, given the rise of increased and often conflicting regulations, today GCs often have to shift from proactive strategic work for the company to a reactive and transactional stance. In addition, by using this subscription-based service, corporate clients can likely reduce their legal fees by more than 80% compared to traditional billable hours, according to Akerman partner Martin Tully.
“I see this effort as ‘best of three worlds’,” said Akerman’s Sharer. “It combines what law firms do best, with what an LPO does best, with what technology does best, with the end result being that the client wins big.” He added that the benefits of disaggregation are compounded even further by economies of scale, when the application is deployed across many clients.
That makes the Akerman Data Law Center partnership about more than just cost and technology. Law firms are increasingly recognizing the value, as Akerman did, of finding a more cost-effective and predictable way to provide certain legal services to clients, even if it means sharing the pie with other firms or tech companies. The end result — that the law firm can retain other high-value or more complex work for the law firm while improving its relationship with the client — is what matters to these firms now.
Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first creative combination of an LPO and law firm to provide a client more transparency, efficiency and predictability. Davis Wright Tremaine’s dedicated innovation and consulting team, DWT De Novo, partnered with Microsoft to streamline their procurement contract process and push first-level drafting, negotiation and finalization of Microsoft’s procurement contracts to an LPO. Escalation of those matters don’t go to the in-house department but are handled by Davis Wright or another firm, Addleshaw Goddard, freeing up Microsoft’s GC to focus on trends in Microsoft’s procurement contracts and leveraging those that fit in with company’s strategic goals.
Clearly the partnership has been successful — both law firms and Microsoft have won multiple awards for this partnership.